The Dallas Stars and the Anaheim Ducks drop the puck on the Western Conference's 2014 NHL Stanley Playoffs tonight- We can't stop discussing it. We discuss it and discuss it. So we thought we'd discuss it here in public...
Brad: The day has arrived. You and I have been waiting for this, my friend, since 2009 when we assumed that missing the playoffs was a weird, one-year kind of a thing. Five years later (and six since we've witnessed playoff hockey) we know how spoiled we were, and how hard it is for a franchise to rise out of the lottery and back into play after such a precipitous downturn.
As such, optimism surrounds this franchise on a day like this. They're clearly heading in the right direction.
But I'm not so sure they have quite the chance in this series that media and fans alike are affording them. How confident are you that a team with this many holes (second line scoring, an "interesting" blue line mix, lack of playoff experience...) can truly challenge the #1 team in the #1 conference?
Brandon: Someone made a really good point in Josh's preview for the series -- in which it was argued that statistically the Stars and Ducks are fairly comparable and in fact the Stars might have a slight -- questioning just how two teams so seemingly evenly matched ended up at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to points. I think that, when you look at the Stars when they are playing at their best and when Anaheim is playing at theirs, the two teams are very even as far as actual talent and ability to beat nearly any team they face.
Where the two teams have differed is that the Stars have been an incredibly streaky team -- both good and bad -- while the Ducks have managed to be fairly consistent over the course of the season. The Ducks also feasted on the Metropolitan division, while the Stars for some reason went belly up in most of those games in which they really should have won.
How does this play out over the course of a series between the two teams? I think the lack of experience on the Stars roster is certainly concerning on certain levels, but you also have Ray Whitney, Erik Cole, Sergei Gonchar and Shawn Horcoff on the Stars -- players that might not be what they once were, but all who have at the very least been to the Stanley Cup Final once in their career and understand what it takes to get there. I think that this is a hungry and tenacious team that has certainly had some stumbles this season, but also has shown the ability to adjust both within games and in between and to do so effectively and in a seven game series -- the Stars can at the very least be a very competitive opponent for the Ducks.
Ultimately I think this comes down to goaltending so I'll pose this question for you: How do you feel about Kari Lehtonen heading into this series?
Brad: That's the fun of this, isn't it? We've never seen him here. His official record states he experienced two games of playoff hockey in 2007 while the Stars were having a scoreless slap-fight with the Vancouver Canucks, but we all know that's not the same Kari Lehtonen that graces NHL rinks with his presence these days. Not by a long shot.
Kari has shed the reputation of having a propensity for injury. He may or may not have shed the reputation for shrinking down the stretch in March. The Olympic break helped with that this year, no doubt, even as the Stars dabbled in Tim Thomas instead of Dan Ellis (the winning goaltender both times against Anaheim this season). That Olympic experience might be the biggest and best thing a Stars fan can point to right now where Kari's intestinal fortitude in big games is concerned- He was great for team Finland in Sochi, and that's tremendous pressure on a European born athlete.
Usually Kari's successes are at least, in part, by-products of the group in front of him. If the Stars play their game with intelligence they will possess the puck at least as much as Anaheim and give him a fighting chance despite a largely inexperienced playoff blue-line. If they have one of their, as you say, inconsistent periods, then the giveaways and turnovers happening in front of him will win the day, and would no matter who were in that net. That having been said, I like his rest this last week, his health, and his ability to make "that save" when they need it.
With so many goaltending options for Bruce Boudreau, and solid ones at that, this area could prove to be a stalemate by the time next week rolls around.
I wonder about the Stars ability produce offense more than their ability to stop Anaheim's (famous last words?)...In a seven-game series where the opposition gets last change four times, how do you feel about Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn's ability to generate, knowing that the choice of any opposing coach would be to stop them and grind on them night after night, daring Lindy Ruff to beat them with "anything but those two" at all costs?
Brandon: Aside from the team's consistency this season, that's certainly the biggest concern. The Ducks have had much better secondary scoring over the course of the season and in a playoff series it's never really about how much your superstars score, it's about how much the team behind them can step up when it's needed the most.
I do think, however, that Lindy Ruff has in a way been preparing for this. Over the past month of the season he has made a concerted effort to pit Seguin and Benn against the top lines of the opposition -- whether that is at home or on the road -- and it's allowed the Stars to really find their groove when it comes to contributions from the second through fourth lines. Think about the run to the postseason, starting with that 7-3 win over Nashville, and how it wasn't really Seguin and Benn dragging this team kicking and screaming when it comes to goal scoring.
Am I concerned? Of course I am, but I think that Lindy Ruff has shown an ability the past month or so to be able to find balance for this team -- whether that's at home or on the road -- and that is encouraging. Hey, win one game in Anaheim and suddenly the Stars have seized back home-ice advantage and this is a team that has been dominant at the AAC this season. I think it can happen.
Brad: The Stars are a bottom third of the league road team and we all know about Anaheim's reputation at Honda Center this season, but it's a whole new ball game, and they only need the one.
The pervasive attitude right now is overly positive, and I think we deserve that as a fanbase. For years people have said that it would do them little good to just "get in" and then crushed by a Chicago or an Anaheim or a Los Angeles- Now that they've actually made it we've seen a complete reversal of that kind of attitude.
People who don't watch hockey are texting me questions about hockey, and they haven't even played a game yet. Are you seeing any of the same down in Houston, and do you think the national audience has a grip on what kind of team the Stars actually are?
Brandon: I think that people that really pay attention and actually watch the Stars play understand that this is a team tending upwards. If nothing else, the Stars have gained a reputation as one of the more exciting teams in hockey and that has drawn a lot of eyeballs their way.
I think the national impression will really depend on what they do in the postseason. It's one thing to make it, but it's another thing to actually make some noise once in the postseason. You find some success in the playoffs, especially if you're overachieving, and suddenly the narrative around the team changes instantly.
Here in Houston, where there are so many transplants from the north and fans of other teams, the Stars are gaining traction. Always has the biggest crowd here at the local hockey pub, and there are a number if hardcore fans down here as well.
And that shall be where I view the first Dallas Stars playoff game in five years.
Brad: In nine hours. How is it still nine hours away? Thanks to Brandon for tossing some ideas around, and we'll see everyone back here tonight for our first EVER playoff game thread.